On Friday, I had my first experience at a metal scrap yard.
Last weekend, Cole and I cleaned out the garage and started to sort the boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of miscellaneous nails, screws, nuts, bolts and washers—the metal remnants of over 50 years of garage projects by Joe and his family. The task was tedious, and we soon realized that the likelihood of ever actually having and finding what we needed for one of our various and sundry projects was unlikely. So we scrapped the sorting plan. Literally.
The first thing I learned is that metal scrap yards are hard to find. They are tucked back in the areas of Chicago that I don’t usually frequent and that Apple Maps has not yet found. When I finally arrived at my destination after following the signs, I pulled in behind two massive trucks that were overflowing with metal, waiting to drive onto a scale. When it was my turn, I pulled onto the scale. The person weighing the trucks looked at me quizzically, so I opened my van and showed him my two containers of scrap metal. He wasn’t impressed, quickly pulled me out of the line and pointed me to another area of the yard. Fine. I drove to the baby scrap metal area and quickly found myself outclassed there too. This area of scrapping was for the professional alley junk man and hobo scrap collector hoping to make a little cash to buy his next lunch or drink.
I pulled up to the dock and realized it was a “watch, learn and follow” process. After you lift the scrap up onto the dock platform that leads into the entrance of the building, you have to climb onto the dock platform. I wasn’t exactly dressed for concrete climbing, but I’m no quitter and managed to vault to the top. Standing atop the landing, I was a scrap metal-vaulting Olympian—in my own eyes, at least. I looked around, ready to take my bow to the sounds of thunderous applause, but instead I heard someone yell “Heads up!” as a piece of metal flew over my head and into the container on the other side of me. Paying attention is the first rule of scrap peddling.
The next step is to put your metal on a cart and push it inside the building. Most of the other scrappers’ carts were overflowing. On my cart I had two medium-ish blue plastic tubs, half filled. The building had a lot of signs on the wall. There was one sign that stated that they didn’t buy from grocery carts—which, I learned, was a source of frustration for the hobos; another sign said you had to have picture ID if you wanted to sell scrap; another made it clear that if you were drunk or high, you would be told to leave.
As I waited in line I did experience some guilt, wondering if I shouldn’t just give my scrap to the less fortunate person in line behind me who had complained to another scrapper that he hadn’t had a beer in two days and was out of cigarettes. However, I repressed the guilt and took my turn to claim our fortune.
Pulling my cart onto the scrap metal scale, I was again greeted with frustration as a newbie. I had not separated my scrap correctly. The scrap employee went through my scrap, muttering and growling in a language I was glad that I did not speak. Finally, I was handed a receipt and pointed toward a cashier window crossed with iron bars.
The woman behind the counter was friendly when she asked for my ID. I’m not sure why I didn’t think the “Must Have ID” rule sign that was posted on the wall didn’t apply to me, but the rule did apply and I had to return to the car for my wallet. As I scrambled up and down the concrete dock platform this time, I couldn’t help but wonder about provisions for the handicapped.
Returning to the window with driver’s license in hand, I was rewarded with $20.30 in cash and a card with my scrap metal collector’s number on it. It wasn’t exactly a fortune, but it was better than being hit on the head with a metal rod.
I am now a card-carrying metal scrapper! I have my own card and number to prove it! If you need help peddling metal…I’m your gal!